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GP Week : Issue 97
CLAREN was confident going into this race. While Red Bull has dominated qualifying this year, taking P1 at every race bar Canada, McLaren has always proven faster in race trim than on Saturdays. Lewis Hamilton's front row performance filled the team with high hopes. The MP4-25 is perhaps the fastest car on the grid in a straight line, thanks to having the most efficient F-duct. And Spa Francorchamps is second only to Monza in terms of top speed. When the lights went out, Mark Webber's car went into anti-stall. There was a clutch problem, and he fell backwards as Hamilton seized the lead through La Source and all the way to the finish line. Rain fell on the first lap, prompting carnage down at the Bus Stop. But Lewis kept his foot down, ignored the eight drivers who came in for intermediate tyres, and stayed out on slicks. He pitted on Lap 24, switching from options to primes, and then on Lap 35 for inters as the rain lashed down. Prior to that stop, his team were urging him to stay out even though he was relaying the threatening conditions he was facing: "When you're in the lead you're the first to arrive at what's ahead of you. You have to stay very sharp," he said after the race. It was at this point he lost control, and scattered over the gravel trap at Rivage. He managed to continue despite touching the tyre wall: "I braked quite late and locked my wheel and went wide at Turn 8.Iwasontheedgeofmyseat.I clipped the wall with my wing. The thing just didn't want to stop. Jeez, the Lord definitely had his hand over me there, as I was able to get away with it." He regained focus and despite the reappearance of the safety car on Lap 38, prompted by Fernando Alonso parking his Ferrari in the middle of the track, Webber's pursuit was fruitless. Hamilton's second sector times were a blur -- almost a second faster than his rivals in the early laps. He was elated as he took to the podium and said afterwards "no one's going to take this one away from me," in reference to the stewards' decision that robbed him of victory in 2008. "Obviously 2008 was incredibly tough but I felt more on the limit here, maybe because I'd been off and had a wide moment and the changeable conditions." Hamilton now leads the title chase by a slim margin -- just three points ahead of Webber. But he's stretched ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Alonso after they failed to score. Lewis was quick to sympathize with Button, who was taken out through no fault of his own. "It was very unfortunate for him and for us as a team. He was doing a fantastic job to get up to second and those points were very, very valuable. I am pretty sure it wasn't his fault. I did happen to see it on the screen." With a 35 point gap between Hamilton and Button, McLaren may now feel the time has come to focus their attention on Hamilton's campaign. But Lewis told the press he sees no need for that. "Jenson was very unfortunate today. I get the same treatment as Jenson and vice versa and that enables us both to score maximum points and so I don't feel there should be any preferential treatment. "Clearly for me, my closest rival in the championship is Mark in terms of points, but I still think the championship is open. But obviously we want to make sure that that's not the case after another few races." As we've seen, the championship order can change so fast. But it would be a brave man who bets against Hamilton for another victory in Monza in a fortnight. M